Union Government

Union Government In early 1917, during World War I, recruitment for the Canadian Expeditionary Force fell to a very low level. PM Sir Robert Borden, opposed to any reduction in Canada's commitment to the war effort, announced on 18 May 1917 that the government would introduce conscription to Canada. On May 25 he proposed to Liberal leader Sir Wilfrid Laurier that the Liberals and Conservatives form a Coalition Government to carry through the measure. After Laurier rejected the proposal on June 6, Borden tried to strengthen his government by bringing in individual Liberals and prominent political independents. His early efforts met with little success. In late summer, however, the Wartime Elections Act and the Military Voters' Act appeared to increase the political prospects for a government supporting conscription. These Acts, together with strong pro-conscription sentiment in the English press and personal convictions that overrode party boundaries, made several Liberals and independents decide to accept Borden's suggestion. On Oct 12 Borden announced the formation of a Union government made up of 12 Conservatives, 9 Liberals or independents, and one labour representative. A general election in Dec 1917 gave the Unionists a large majority.

After its election victory, the Union government began to weaken. The end of the war in Nov 1918 destroyed the reason for unionism in the minds of many adherents. Many Unionists returned to the Liberal Party or joined the new Progressive Party. Although the Union government was a coalition of varied political interests, many Canadians of non-British background still blamed Borden and the Conservative Party for conscription. The results of Unionist policies included an enduring Conservative weakness among French Canadians and many others of non-British descent - a weakness that contrasted with renewed Liberal strength in French Canada under Laurier's successor as Liberal leader, Mackenzie King. With Borden's retirement in July 1920, Union government ended.